5 Business Lessons from Zippo’s Innovative Spark

Jun 5, 2012

Iconic American company and U.S. Chamber member Zippo Manufacturing Inc. of Bradford, Pennsylvania is celebrating a huge milestone today: their 500 millionth lighter. June 5th also happens to be the birthday of the late George Blaisdell, Zippo's founder who died in 1978.

You don’t get to this stage of business without igniting some fireworks along the way (and learning some lessons.) Here are five ways that Zippo kept the flame burning all these years.

Stretch Your Brand –- The decline in American smokers is bound to impact a company that’s been making windproof lighters since 1933. So, family-owned Zippo now makes and markets candles, camping supplies, watches, fragrances, apparel, hand warmers, pocket knives, and small leather goods, among other items.

Buy your competitors -- To fuel future growth, the company bought the US and Canadian consumer products divisions of former rival Ronson in a 2010 deal valued at about $11 million. The purchase eliminated a key competitor in the lighter and accessories business and added the Ronson brand to Zippo’s portfolio. Thanks to this acquisition, the company’s core lighters business now generates 54% of sales. 

Embrace mainstream culture –- Zippo lighters have an entertainment resume and career longevity that a superstar would envy. But did you know the Zippo lighter has appeared in many video games, including the ever-popular Call of Duty franchise? And the company recently created ZippoEncore.com to showcase the talents of undiscovered bands across the country.

Take advantage of social media -- As a company, Zippo has an active Facebook and Twitter presence, as well as YouTube videos (Check out the one below featuring a dairy farmer, his Zippo hand warmers and a cold cow).

Value your employees –- One of the best parts of the June 5th  milestone celebrations was the involvement of Zippo’s 620 employees. The 500 millionth lighter was passed along hand-to-hand to each of the company’s employees on its way from the plant to the onsite Zippo museum. “I think it's a great way to get everybody involved and make everybody feel a part of this 500 millionth celebration," CEO Greg Booth told The Associated Press.

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